by Dolores Regan

I was eight years old when I was appointed keeper of my mother's eternal soul. According to my grandmother my mother was headed straight toward hell, but I could save her by nagging her to take me to church. I was already in charge of my baby brother and caring for my father when he had too much to drink.

My mother was not a loose woman as my grandmother suggested. It was just that she was so damn pretty men acted all funny around her. Each one smiled so it looked as though his cheeks would burst. They offered to do all kinds of things around the house; I'd be happy to fix that shutter for you, said the mailman. I could mend that fence for you in no time, chimed the milkman.

My mother only had one dress, but she wore it like something good was going to happen. She was slender and the flowered print spread over her parts like it was specially made for her. Her shiny hair bounced when she walked. But it was her voice that really got to people. It was peppered with laughter even in the most serious of conversation. That's why people offered her things. They wanted her to keep talking. I know I did.

The women hated her. I mean hate. They knew no matter what promised tonic, or how they had suffered wearing curlers to bed, they would never manage to look half as good as my mother. And what really burned them is that she hardly even tried. I swear each one of them attempted to surprise her from sleep to see how she looked first thing in the morning. Their pinched faces lined with disappointment when she answered the door looking as beautiful as when she was dressed and ready for them. Still they tried with their phony, Can you spare a couple of eggs?

So anyway, back to my mother's soul. I was supposed to save it when I wasn't saving my father from killing himself or changing my brother's dirty diapers. But I was certain there was no way she would end up in hell. Not even when she got into a shiny Packard with a stranger who smiled like Clark Cable and called her, Sugar. They drove off fast enough to work up the dirt in front of our house. A cloud of dust settled on us as sleepily as a first snow, just like knowing she was never coming back.

BIO: Dolores Regan earned a BA in psychology at Oswego State, and an MA in Liberal Arts & Women's Studies at Stony Brook University. She works at a mental health clinic. Dolores writes fiction about women's lives. She lives on Long Island with her husband, two sons and one cat.